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Facetime. Sex repeal: Steven Rhoads draws gender lines
Published May 20, 2004, in issue 0320 of the Hook
By Elizabeth Kiem (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If the term weren't so loaded and the connotation so derogatory, there would be no danger in calling Steven Rhoads a sexist. A political scientist who has spent a decade amassing statistical evidence to quash what he terms "the androgyny project," Rhoads firmly believes that men and women are fundamentally and irrevocably unequal.
Women, he says, are superior.
"Women do two things well, men don't," he offers as the abbreviated thesis of his new book, Taking Sex Differences Seriously.
Alas, such a belief will win this UVA professor no accolades among feminists, because the two things that women do well are working and parenting, and while Rhoads appreciates the female capacity to be a supermom (men, he asserts, can't even begin to juggle those responsibilities), he doesn't recommend it. Moms are happier when they don't work. So are Dads. So are the kids. And studies, he says, prove it.
"I would acknowledge that it seems cosmically unfair," he apologizes.
Actually the cosmos has little to do with it. It's the life sciences that determine our happiness, according to Rhoads. The thesis, a steadfast brew of Darwinism, hormone counts, and primeval survival skills (men are loners because they used to hunt; women have better spatial awareness because their forbears gathered) is a challenge to the more prevalent belief that gender roles are created by pushy advertisers and paranoid parents.
"Biology is not as scary as social construction, which says 'You are nothing.' Biology says 'You are innately something,'" he says.
Rhoads is a 65-year-old white man who's happily married to a fellow teacher who chose motherhood over tenure track. He came to gender studies via research on the economics of working women. This makes him a sitting duck for critics looking for feminism's nemesis. No matter that he's soft-spoken, or that he was raised by a single mother who was once a show girl and whom he reveres, or that he prefers hot chocolate with plenty of whipped cream over black coffee Steve Rhoads will be branded in unfavorable terms.
He says he's prepared for a critical reaction from feminist readers-- which is a good thing, because it's coming as surely as the enthusiastic bookings on conservative radio shows. He says his book's argument was honed in his undergraduate courses, where he had to defend his views to a generation unused to being lectured on the chronological joys of chastity and maternity.
Tori McNamee, a fourth-year student, gave Rhoads feedback on many chapters of his book but laughs at the idea that she could represent his harshest critics.
"Professor Rhoads has an idea that all feminists... are radical, but I'm fairly moderate. I think I redefined the term for him," she says.
A feminist who's not a radical? What's next, a sexist who's not a misogynist?
Photo by Jen Fariello
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